Door opens for Baltimore's youth

January 15, 1995|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Contributing Writer

The Door opens at 9 a.m., but it never really closes.

"It's a full-time job," said Joe Ehrmann. He's the former Baltimore Colt whose playing field has moved to the streets of East Baltimore, where drugs and guns compete with him for the future of Baltimore's children. But this story, at his request, is not about Joe Ehrmann. He wants you to know about The Door, not the man who opened it.

The Door provides the young people in this neighborhood with the academic and spiritual means to make it in the world.

In this neighborhood, "there is a lack of other options."

"Baltimore City has a 65 percent dropout rate," Mr. Ehrmann said.

But the problem is deeper than that. He explained that many children 'drop out' while they're still in school, giving up early. When illiteracy is allowed to fester, and students find themselves years behind their classmates in reading levels, making up the work they've missed seems insurmountable.

The Door attacks the manifold problems of Baltimore's youth, replacing guns with God and temptation with teamwork. The goal is simple: Show the children self-worth through religion and academic achievement.

"This is not a day care center. This is very intensive and comprehensive," Mr. Ehrmann said.

Over the course of the year, more than 350 neighborhood boys and girls ages six through 21 come to this turn-of-the-century German church at 219 N. Chester St., seeking help for seemingly helpless lives. Almost all of the students here meet the federal criteria for being at high risk for dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, delinquency and substance abuse.

To change this, the Children's Ministry program at The Door has three components : Dooring the Week, Dooring School and Dooring the Summer.

Dooring the Week is an after-school program where the children come for tutoring, help with homework, computer training, cultural exposure and Bible lessons. The message is reinforced here as it is in every step of The Door's program: You don't have to turn to drugs and crime. You can turn to The Door, you can turn to God and, most importantly, you can turn to yourself.

The after-school program is run with the help of The Door's interns. Young adults from the community, many of whom have been involved with The Door since its beginning, are the positive role models that these children might not find on the street, or even at home.

They'll also find the role models at School 27, the Commodore John Rodgers Elementary School.

Dooring School is a partnership of The Door, Commodore John (( Rogers, the Abell Foundation and A.L.P.H.A. The program works one-on-one with students struggling with reading. Members of A.L.P.H.A., Audio Learning Processing Helps All, are literacy specialists based in Towson who teach students to feel sounds as they are made in the mouth during speech.

In a preliminary experiment with A.L.P.H.A., The Door put 28 students through a nine-week summer program. At the end of the program, the children gained an average of one year in reading ability.

The Abell Foundation was impressed, providing a three-year, $198,254 grant. In the March/April issue of the Abell Report, the foundation saluted "The Door, for young people in East Baltimore, a school away from school, a home away from home, and for many, a family where there is no family."

"We're hoping to get 40 students per year through the program, at 50 hours per student, one student at a time," said Raine Mullen, director of Dooring School. Two teachers from The Door run the Dooring School program, working on reading remediation with each student for 50 minutes per day.

Even when the school doors are closed, The Door is still open. Dooring the Summer gives students structure where there once was none.

To keep fresh the lessons learned, Dooring the Summer works with 50 students for six hours per day over a 10-week period. Students are involved in reading, drug prevention, African-American history and recreation. The focus is still on literacy, and the atmosphere is still intense. In last summer's program, 89 percent of the students involved increased their reading levels.

Michelle Blagmond, who runs the summer program, articulates The Door's spirit as the rest of the instructors nod in agreement.

"God brought me here, to help the children build on who they are, to give them pride where there once was hostility," Ms. Blagmond said.

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